by TITO S. TALAO
THE Los Angeles Lakers are down 0-2 against the Oklahoma Thunder in the NBA Western Conference semifinals, but I’m not about to write them off.
Not when Kobe Bryant is going to Staples Center for Games 3 and 4, and not when history isn’t completely against the struggling Lakers just yet. If they go down 0-3 in front of their home crowd, then not even Jack Nicholson yelling at Kevin Durant from ringside that “You can’t handle the truth!“ can save them.
My days as a Lakers fan came to a close when the curtains fell on Magic Johnson’s Showtime, ﬁnding it difficult to shift my allegiance to the next edition Lakers where the center couldn’t shoot free throws much less skyhooks, and the star player is a primadonna who keeps badmouthing his coach, a man looked up to by no less than the greatest player in the world.
But there’s something about rooting for a great champion that’s down on its luck yet continues to rise on its feet which makes one choose to be in its corner. And so at least until they tie the series, I’m cheering for Kobe and Lakers.
Then Durant and the Thunder can do with the Lakers as they please – if they got what it takes to ﬁnish what they started.
At any rate, that’s still an eternity away for the Lakers, with Kobe needing to convince his teammates, especially spoiled brat Andrew Bynum, that they are dangerously on the brink and that it’s time to get
serious less they fall into a precipice from which no NBA team has come back from.
And there lies Bryant’s dilemma.
Such gargantuan task never fell squarely on Magic’s shoulders during his `80s reign because his teammates Kareem, Worthy, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, AC Green, even Kurt Rambis were self-motivated and need not be told, which also made life easier for coach Pat Riley.
With everybody efficiently playing his role, all Johnson had to focus on was ignite the fast break, distribute the rock with no-look passes, and flash that megawatt smile of his.
Same with MJ in the `90s with the Chicago Bulls, who had a Zen Master in Phil Jackson to take care of the psychological aspect of motivating guys like Pippen, Kukoc, Longley, Paxson, Rodman, Kerr, Ron Harper and BJ Armstrong to run the triangle to perfection.
That left Jordan the singular task of executing all those unworldly stuff on the way to winning those six championships.
Not Bryant, who has no Pat Riley or Phil Jackson (in Mike Brown) to crack the whip and manage overflowing egos within the team. He also has, apparently in this team, no supporting cast that matches, if not exceeds, his desire to win.
And so he had to work on Pau Gasol himself, and Bynum and that volatile guy formerly known as Ron Artest and all the rest of his Lakers teammates to make them toe the line and feel a sense of urgency. LA used to have someone to share that load with Kobe along with 5 titles but management shipped him away.
Now Derek Fisher is doing all that work with the ballclub that’s two games away from sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers.
But I’m still rooting for the Lakers to at least pull even.